If you want to feel the real heartbeat of Taipei, one that is far removed from the skyscrapers and shopping malls of East Taipei, then Datong (大同區) and Wanhua (萬華區) in West Taipei are the places to go.
Old Taipei is next to the Danshui River and is one of the oldest inhabited areas in Taipei. It was the commercial hub of the city, but since the 1990s the economic center has shifted southeast to Zhongzheng, Daan and Xinyi districts. While much of the original architecture has been lost, the area still maintains a traditional feel. In particular, places like Longshan Temple hold a special place in the hearts of the Taiwanese, and many still visit the area to consult with fortune tellers about who they should marry or what to name their children. Dihua Street has undergone massive renovation and now blends traditional architecture and shops selling Chinese medical herbs and dry goods with cool handicraft shops, modern cafes and distinctive tea houses. Further south, Ximending has been totally transformed, and is now a major youth hub for shopping and eating.
- 1 Longshan Temple (龍山寺), 211 Guangzhou Road (near junction with Guilin Road) (Longshan Temple Station on the Ban-Nan Line). Daily 06:00-22:00. This temple is where countless generations of Taipei citizens have come to pray and seek guidance at times of trouble. As the temple is dedicated to Guanyin (the Buddhist representation of compassion) it is officially defined as Buddhist, but there is a great amount of folk religion mixed into the fabric of the beliefs at this temple. Free.
- 2 Red House (紅樓劇場) (Outside the southwest exit of MRT Ximen station). Near the Ximending shopping area, the Red House was Taiwan's first modern market as well as a theater. Now, the renovated structure is home to an exhibition hall and a market selling innovative handicrafts.
- 3 North Gate (Cheng'en Gate (北門)), Sec 1, Zhongxiao West Road (Across from the main post office.). Of the five ancient city gates, four are still standing. But of the four, only one is a true historic relic from the Qing Dynasty: the salmon-colored north gate. Its external walls were built with granolithic and brown mosaic tiles from Beitou Kiln.
- 4 Bopiliao Old Street (剝皮寮歷史街區), Lane 173, Kangding Road, ☏ . 09:00-21:00 (closed Monday). One of the few, and probably best preserved, examples of Qing dynasty architecture in Taipei. The street features historic red brick buildings which have been well restored and are used for a variety of cultural purposes.
In the South of Datong District, Dadaocheng (大稻埕) is a historic heart of Taipei. Dadaocheng can be literally translated as large open space for drying rice in the sun. This is one of the oldest communities in Taipei. To get to this old area, you can take the Danshui Line (Red Line) MRT to Shuanglian Station. From Exit 2, walk west down Minsheng West Road (about 15 minutes).
- 5 Dihua Street (迪化街) (Exit 4, Zhongshan Station; turn right and walk straight along Nangjing West Road. Dihua Street is a 20 minute walk from the MRT). This street along the Danshui River in Dadaocheng, rows of old shophouses from late 1880s hold Taiwan's oldest wholesale dried goods market. On Dihua Street Section 1, Xiahai City God Temple (霞海城隍廟) was built in 1859 to worship City God (城隍爺), who watched over the citizens in the district and decided a person's fate after death. Today this temple remains the area's religious and social center, and one of Taipei's most important places of worship. Every Chinese New Year, Dihua Street is the most popular place in Taipei where local residents buy snacks and sweets for Chinese New Year festivities. In addition, renovation work to the street has created a fascinating environment that combines traditional shops selling tea and Chinese medicine with creative handicraft shops, modern cafes, and distinctive tea houses.
- 6 Gui-de Street (貴德街), West of Dihua Street and Xining North Road (Shuanglian Stn on the Danshui Line.). Previously called Western Houses Street, this lane once fronted the Danshui River. In the 1880s, the world famous Formosa Oolong Tea came from a nearby wharf. At the time, many wealthy merchants invested in building along the lane in order to attract international trading firms. One was Chen Tian-lai (AD 1872-1939), a Taiwanese tea merchant, who was fabulously rich for his time. His home was one of the model Taiwanese residences on this land and his neo-Baroque home is still standing. (No.73 Gui-De Street)
- 7 Museum of Contemporary Art (當代藝術館), No. 39, Chang'an West Road, ☏ . 10:00-18:00. Housed in a former school building built by the Japanese in 1921, the museum showcases mainly contemporary Taiwanese art.
Dalongdong (大龍峒) is at the Datong District's north end, north of Dadaocheng and also one of the oldest communities in Taipei. Baoan Temple and Confucius Temple are both famous historical sites located in this area.
- 8 Bao'an Temple (保安宮), 61 Ha-mi St ('Yuanshan' on the Danshui Line). Construction began on this temple in 1805 and it was completed 25 years later. Baoan is a Taoist temple and one of the leading religious sites in Taipei. The temple's main deity is the emperor Baosheng, the god of medicine. The mural paintings and sculptures that adorn the building are considered some of the most impressive in Taiwan, and the temple won acclaims in the 2003 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards.
- 9 Confucius Temple (孔廟), 275 Dalong St ('Yuanshan' on the Danshui Line). Tu–Su 08:30–21:00. Just next to Bao'an Temple, the Confucius Temple was built in 1879 when the Qing Court changed Taipei into a prefecture of the Province of Fujian, China. It was established to serve as the largest educational center in northern Taiwan. Every September 28, a large number of people from Taiwan and abroad come here to watch a solemn Confucius birthday ceremony and eight-row dance.
- 10 Chen Dexing Ancestral Hall (陳德星堂). An ancestral shrine built in 1892
- 11 Fa-Chu-Kung Temple (法主公廟), No. 2, Lane 344, Nanjing West Road. 06:30-21:00. A 5-storey temple building built in 1878.
- 12 Ama Museum (阿嬤家-和平與女性人權館), No. 256, Section 1, Dihua St, ☏ . 10:00-17:00. The museum is dedicated to the comfort women during the Japanese rule of Taiwan.
Stroll around - The area, particularly Dihua Street (day) and Ximending (night), are great to walk around and absorb the atmosphere of the city streets.
Parks and nature
- 1 Machangding Memorial Park (馬場町紀念公園). The park features an artificial mound on the approximate site where a number of people were executed during the period of marshal law. The park is dedicated to those who lost their lives during this period.
- 1 Red House (紅樓), No. 10, Chengdu Rd., Wanhua Dist., ☏ . 11:00-21:30. The Red House is both a teahouse and a venue for small-scale theater productions. The two-story high red brick building is shaped into an octagonal cylinder. The first and second floors of the Red House now are the art exhibition, restaurants, cafes, shops, and theaters. During weekends, the outside of the Red House become somewhat of a bazaar, where several booths are set up for college students, young designers, or young musicians to show their talents and sell their creative products.
- 2 Ximen Pedestrian area (Ximen Walker) (MRT Blue Line stops right at Ximending; the stop name is Ximen). This famous part of town is the center of Taipei's pop, fashion, and alternative cultures. Sometimes called the "Harajuku of Taipei", as the experience is similar to the Tokyo counterpart. Buy your snacks, T-shirts, see portraits (sketched on the street), shop for vintage clothes and souvenirs.
- 3 Ningxia Night Market (寧夏夜市), Ningxia Road, Datong District. 17:00-01:00. Crowded, narrow, and busy with customers including lots of tourists—Ningxia Night Market is one of the oldest night markets in Taipei, and specializes in Taiwanese snack foods, like stinky tofu and oyster and egg omelets. Most stalls have English signs as well as Chinese. Try the taro balls!
- 4 Huaxi Street Night Market (Snake Alley Night Market), Huaxi Street, Wanhua District. 16:00-00:00. Serving local snacks, and restaurants that serve traditional Taiwanese dishes and many delicacies including snake blood and meat, turtle blood and meat. Many Taiwanese have a negative view of Snake Alley, which was once a legal red-light district.
- 5 Yengsan Night Market (延三夜市) (exit Daqiaotou MRT Station, close to Taipei Bridge). Small market serving traditional Taiwanese cuisine and not a tourist hot-spot like many other markets. Get the taste of sticky tofu, fried noodles and mochi ice here.
- 6 Dalong Street Night Market (大龍街夜市) (close to Taipei Confucius Temple). The proximity to the Confucius Temple makes it a nice stop to pick up a snack or eat at one of the old restaurants.
- 1 Ah Chung Mee Soa (阿宗麵線), 8-1 Emei St. 10:00-22:30. You can't miss this shop in Ximending, since crowds of people surround it all day. Standing or sitting, they slurp down hot bowls of mee soa, which are a comfort on cold days. Not quite for the faint-hearted, thin noodles are mixed with a flavorful soup, created from prolonged braising of the (thoroughly washed) large intestines of the pig. Don't forget to add the condiments provided at the side: the vinegar and minced garlic packs a punch. Other branches can be found in Shilin Night Market and Zhongxiao Fuxing. NT$45-60.
- Calcutta Indian Curry House (加爾各答印度咖哩屋), 70 Xining South Rd (at E'Mei Street), ☏ . Basement Level of the Wannian Shopping Complex. (Ximen Ding District) - One of the more popular Indian restaurants, conveniently located in the Ximen Ding district. A bit hard to find, but definitely worth it.
- Sushi Express. Sushi train style restaurant chain, all plates and miso soup NT$30
- 2 Tainan Tan-tsu-mien Seafood Restaurant (台南擔仔麵), 31 Huaxi Street, ☏ . Legendary in the Huaxi Street Tourist Night Market (Snake Alley).
- 3 Mei Guan Yuan (美觀園), 36 Emei St, ☏ . Located in Ximending Pedestrian Area. This restaurant has served authentic Japanese sushi and sashimi since 1946. (There's another restaurant opposite the road from this with exactly the same name - that's the old location of this restaurant and doesn't serve as good sushi.)
There are a number of coffee shops and tea houses in Dihua Street.
- Salt Peanuts (鹹花生), No.197-1, Section 1, Dihua Street, ☏ . 09:00-17:00. A cozy little cafe in a restored 19th-century building. Great coffee, delicious desserts, sensitive decor. Best seating located in open courtyard area. Serves healthy and innovative brunches.
- Liu Yu Teahouse (柳隅茶舍), B1-10, Longshan Temple Underpass, No145 Xiyuan Road. Sec. 1, Wanhua (from Longshan Temple, enter underpass; take first right; the tea house is on the left), ☏ . Su-Th 11:00-21:30, F Sa 11:00-22:00. An unpretentious and cozy tea house. Excellent selection of teas. Owner speaks fluent English.
- 1 Homey Hostel (紅米青年旅館), 7F, No. 180, Changan West Road (MRT Taipei Main Station), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 11:00. A clean, well-furnished hostel near Taipei Main Station. The atmosphere is friendly but not noisy. You can relax and play games in the comfortable, spacious common room, participate in one of the weekly activities, or speak to the knowledgeable local staff about the best things to see and do in Taipei. Private rooms or bunks available. Lockers are big enough for a regular-sized backpack but not a suitcase. There are outlets next to each bunk, and a curtain for privacy. double room NT$1,040-1,240, dorm NT$450-600.
- Guest House TaiwanMex, 2F, No.18-1, Lane 18, Nanjing West Road (1 minute walk south of Metro Zhongshan Station), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Clean rooms, multiple bathrooms, internet PCs and showers. Spanish and English spoken. NT$300.
- Taipei Backpackers Hostel, No. 58, 56, Sec 2, Hankou St., ☏ , toll-free: 0800 222 702, ✉ email@example.com. Check-in: 13:00, check-out: 12:00. 5 minutes from Ximen MRT station, one of the famous shopping areas in Taipei. From NT$500.
- New Continental Hotel (中源大飯店), No.73 Section 1, Chongqing North Road (near the Taipei Circle, Ning Xia Night Market and equidistant from the Zhongshan (中山) and Taipei Main Station (台北車站) MRT stations (about 10-15 min walk to either station)), ☏ . Decent price given the accessibility that the hotel offers, especially for those on a free-and-easy trip and intending to commute by public transport. Staff are generally courteous and friendly. Rooms are generally mid-sized to small depending on the number of people staying in one room (rooms with 1 double bed or 2 twin beds are generally smaller). Limited selection of television programs, however, with most channels offering Chinese language programs only. Rooms are decently cleaned and amenities (complementary drink packets and towels etc.) replenished day-to-day. Rooms facing the main road can be a bit noisy at night and rooms situated in the center have no windows. Breakfast is complimentary but do not expect much; most dishes offered are Chinese and very limited selection of Western cuisine (toast, salad and some meat-based dishes).